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Next generation of leaders 'right here'

May 14, 2007

The yearlong course of study for members of Class XX of Leadership Washington County is coming to a close as the class prepares for graduation on June 27.

It is the mission of Leadership Washington County to provide additional leadership training and community immersion for individuals identified as accomplished in their business, nonprofit or government sectors.

Held one day a month for nine months, the sessions focus on topics that affect the region, such as economic development and downtown revitalization; health and human services; education; culture and quality of life; and state and local government.

Class members are responsible for being part of the planning for two program days. Each program day is thus a reflection of those individuals' experiences and insights, so each year presents a unique experience.

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Highlights of this year included a visit to the Maryland Correctional Institution; an intensive leadership development workshop and panel discussion on diversity at Antietam Overlook; a trip to Winter Street Elementary School, the site of an elementary school in transition; and a joint tour of the county with members of the student leadership class.

The program began in 1987 and has graduated more than 500 people. Graduates of the program go on to serve on boards, run for public office and take on other leadership roles in the community.

Graduates remain active through the alumni association and work to impact public policy, to improve educational and professional opportunities in the area and to creatively develop solutions to community challenges. The program is designed to promote discussion and cooperation beyond traditional boundaries.

"Leadership Washington County gives participants an interesting perspective on the issues that shape our community," said Ross Rhoads, president of the board of directors. "Where else could individuals be able to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the new prenatal unit in the county's hospital system, go inside the county jail while discussing the criminal justice system, visit a local homeless shelter, take a historic tour of the area, and spend time in an elementary school implementing an innovative program to tackle low test scores and attendance problems?"

Rhoads was a member of the first leadership class and now serves as the chairman of the board. Meetings with other community and political leaders, at the local and state level, also is a standard part of the curriculum.

Matt Donegan of Bowman Development had this to say: "At each and every session, it became very apparent to me that I was surrounded by individuals who selflessly give their time and expertise to positively impact the area. I feel very blessed to have been part of the program and to have met these wonderful and talented people. So to all the baby boomers who are ready to hit the panic button as they look at the younger generation asking where are the next generation of leaders and difference makers are, I say look no further, they are right here!"

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